Digital Divide – An ever-increasing gap

Covid-19 uncovered many societal issues that are present today, as we were cloistered into our homes, searching for alternative avenues to communicate and stay in touch; whether that be educational, social connections, GP appointments online etc, the digital divide became prevalent. As the world turned to the digital world to replace in-person interactions, this gap inevitably widened and now, it cannot be ignored any longer.

Having identified this issue as one ELBA wants to address, we are looking at key groups we work with, one being the older generation in east London. In areas of high deprivation, we already know a key barrier to accessing the digital world is income; if you are unable to afford tech-savvy devices and broadband it is already harder to be digitally inclusive. Moreover, something that is overlooked and often taken for granted by many is the know-how. If you have not grown up with technology, you are less exposed to it and evidently lack the skills and confidence to delve into what could be called unchartered territory. This is in addition to lacking access to devices and connectivity. With Covid-19 affecting the older generation disproportionately, most had to – and still are – shielding and having to isolate without the means to communicate to the outside world digitally, being scared, alone and losing loved ones, they need the means to communicate the most.

ELBA will be working on creating new volunteering opportunities to work with community partners through the support of corporate volunteers to address the digital divide and continue connecting with those who are isolating and deprived of social connections.

The Challenge Team through the Isolation Reduction Project have been organising and facilitating group befriending calls since March with a select group of older people from Bonny Downs Community Association who have been isolating.

“I enjoy the fact that I am experiencing something new. I’ve never had these conference type calls before so it is nice to do something different, not done before. It is quite fascinating talking to [several] people at the same time.”

– Befriendee feedback

The feedback from these calls alone has greatly highlighted the difference and positive impact the social interactions have had on those involved.

“…how can I put it, it settled me down for the rest of the day – I know it’s only for an hour – I was looking forward to next week.”

– Befriendee feedback when asked about the first call experience

“…a weekly set appointment at a set time has given me a sense of purpose and helped my phone phobia.”

A key point to note with these calls was the need to set up conference calls that participants could dial in to from their mobile phones and landlines – the lack of devices and know-how prevented participants from joining sessions on Zoom. Again, highlighting the complexity of the issue; support may be available but if you do not have the means, you cannot access it, and without the know-how you do not know how to. More so, for the community partners who provide the support, it has always been hard to reach the isolated and even more so now during this pandemic.

ELBA has been working with an over 50s group with the help of volunteers to familiarise the group with the wonders of Zoom – something they were hesitant to try out initially but have been pleasantly surprised with this ‘new’ means of interaction. However, with lockdown in effect again and the lack of in person support – which is crucial – from staff at the community centres, this will be a long road requiring consistency, dedication, time and patience.

Ideally, we want to reach the older generation using the likes of Zoom and more importantly, enabling them to be independent and confident in using the devices themselves; training and upskilling so that they can also help others; to go beyond simply answering a video call and start shopping online, banking online, setting up a call independently, emailing, downloading apps and on it goes.

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